For most parents, the challenge of getting kids to eat their vegetables is all too familiar. But fear not, it can be done! There are many simple tricks—you just have to find which work best for your family, and stay consistent and persistent.
Try the following tips to encourage your kids to experiment and enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Boost the Flavor
No one wants to eat fruits and vegetables that lack flavor or texture, not even you! To get your kids to love fruits and vegetables, ensure they taste good. One way to boost flavor without extra effort is to buy produce when it’s in season, especially tomatoes. They’re juicy, flavorful and sweet in the summer, but can be mealy and bland in the winter.
Also experiment with different varieties of vegetables. For example, your family may loathe broccoli, but they might enjoy its longer, sweeter cousin, broccolini. And most kids protest Brussels sprouts, but they might like the new Brussels sprout-kale hybrid
, especially when in season during the autumn.
Focus on Color
Interest in food often begins with its visual appeal. Unappetizing foods are not likely to tempt anyone, and they may sit through a meal untouched. Think about the yucky lunch food always served in movies—it’s usually brown mush.
Preparing meals full of color helps make them more appealing, and kids are more likely to eat a fruit or vegetable if it has high visual appeal. It can be as simple as slicing apples and stacking them into a shape, or even using a spiral apple cutter—then adding a contrasting color like orange pepper slices.
Try serving veggies in the shape of a happy face on a plate. Make cucumber circles the eyes and sliced olives the pupils. Continue to try new ways of presenting fruits and vegetables, and don’t get discouraged if they aren’t immediately accepted. Try enforcing a “one bite” rule
. That is, ask your kids to take at least one bite of all new foods. Let them know that it’s okay if they don’t like it, but they won’t know until they try it.
Make colorful vegetables readily available, and your kids will more likely eat them. Store a bowl of cherry tomatoes, celery, bell peppers, carrots and snap peas in the fridge so they can grab and go.
Add chopped vegetables and fresh herbs to store-bought marinara sauce or salsa to add fresh flavor and nutrients. Carrots, celery and parsley blend well in marinara sauce, and cilantro, corn, black beans and fresh tomatoes are great additions to salsa. If your children turn up their noses and the sight of certain vegetables, finely mince them in a juicer or blender before adding them. Your child won’t even notice, but they will be enjoying a much more nutritious meal.
Build on What’s Familiar
Sneak new vegetables into dishes that kids already love. For example:
- If they love tomato sauce, add in a couple tablespoons of pumpkin, extra basil or puréed, cooked carrots. Carrots add natural sweetness to just about anything.
- Blend mashed cauliflower or parsnips with mashed potatoes.
- Stir puréed squash, salsa or frozen petite peas into whole grain macaroni and cheese sauce.
- Add chopped mushrooms to ground meats to complement the texture, plus many mushrooms are good sources of vitamin D if exposed to sunlight before harvesting—check the label.
- For children opposed to green foods, serve smoothies in stainless steel drinking containers. Then they won’t see or taste the greens you’ve added to their fruit smoothies.
Add Spices, Herbs & Other Flavorings
Herbs and herb-based sauces like pesto count as veggies, too. Herbs are loaded with antioxidants, plus they add a burst of flavor to foods. Kids aren’t going to eat foods that don’t taste good, so upgrade bland vegetables and add your kid’s favorite flavors. Whether you’re topping roasted vegetables with pesto or sprinkling minced oregano on spaghetti and meatballs, herbs are a great way to sneak in some nutrition.
Add dressings or dips to make things more interesting. For example, drizzle jicama with orange juice, then top it with fresh cilantro. Serve celery with peanut butter. Provide honey mustard or hummus when serving carrots.
Grow Something & Prepare Meals With Your Child
Growing vegetables or herbs can be a fun way to teach responsibility. In addition, when kids see where their food comes from, they become more interested in the food itself and, in turn, are more likely to eat it.
If you have a porch, try growing tomatoes or lettuce in a small pot. If you have a window in your kitchen, plant an herb garden. Let your child select what to grow, and when it’s ready to harvest, they can help you prepare meals with their homegrown produce!
Keep it simple and don’t set the bar too high. Just having kids wash and scrub the veggies counts as getting them involved! By including kids in the preparation and cooking process, they are more likely to try and like the foods.
Make a Laminated Place Mat Together
Draw colorful fruits or vegetables on construction paper, then cut them out. Categorize the fruits and veggies into colors or food groups on a large piece of paper and laminate it. Discuss goals, like aiming to eat four different colors of produce everyday—and make sure to always eat something green! One day each week, kids can circle what they ate with an erasable marker. Leave a couple blank spots so they can draw what’s missing from the placemat.
Be a Role Model
Your kids look up to you and notice more than you think. If they see that you never eat your vegetables, they will be less likely to eat theirs. On the flip side, if they see you eating and enjoying your vegetables, they might want to try them, too. Be enthusiastic, and curiosity will eventually get the better of your kids.
Don’t make multiple meals to appeal to everyone’s preferences. It’s okay if your kids don’t clean their plate. By creating a rule that kids will either eat what you cook or not eat anything, your kids will learn to try new foods to satisfy their hunger.
Communicate the Benefits
Explain the importance of eating vegetables in terms young children will understand. Kids might not care about the risk of developing diabetes as an adult, but they may care about being strong so they can play their favorite sports, think better, grow tall, and outsmart you. Don’t go overboard—kids know when they’re being lectured.
When encouraging your kids to try new foods, don’t get discouraged. It may take a while for your kids to start eating a variety of vegetables, but never give up. Keeping at it can ensure that your kids develop a taste for and a habit of eating a variety of vegetables later in life.